Jessamy's press aide lambastes O'Malley

Jessamy spokeswoman blasts mayor

July 26, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

To counter a wave of verbal attacks against the prosecutor's office, the chief spokeswoman for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy lambasted Baltimore's mayor yesterday in a caustic statement that accused Martin O'Malley of "hoodwinking" the public and "failing miserably" to reduce crime.

"Today our office is drawing a line in the sand that it will not stand idly by while the mayor and the police continue to delude the public with the fact that things are better because from our vantage point they are not," said Margaret T. Burns, who called a news conference to criticize the mayor. "We are going to publicly respond to the mayor's finger-pointing because the public deserves to know the truth."

Hostile accusations have been hurled back and forth this week among the mayor, police, state's attorney and judiciary in the wake of a spate of violence in Baltimore so deadly that police yesterday ordered more than 2,000 hours of overtime patrols through the weekend.

Jessamy, who has been state's attorney since 1995, is in the midst of a heated campaign in which she is being challenged by two aggressive candidates in the Sept. 10 primary. But in recent days her biggest political adversary has been the mayor, who has criticized her handling of gun crimes and failure to oppose the release on bail of a man accused of shooting a 10-year-old.

Jessamy, who at times has insulated herself from the media, did not attend yesterday's news conference because "the next day's headlines would say she's defensive and has a personality disorder," Burns said.

"The public is being hoodwinked," Burns said. "Mrs. Jessamy asked me to convey this message to the media."

Jessamy's office had been criticized by O'Malley on Wednesday, when the mayor called a news conference and - among other accusations - called prosecutors soft on gun crimes. The mayor's message, which included charts he said showed that suspects were getting less jail time, clearly irked Burns and the state's attorney's office, who said the figures were "bogus" and "sanitized."

In her long, fiery statement yesterday, Burns rebutted the mayor's contentions while touching on issues ranging from bail hearings to gun statistics to the mayor's crime-fighting strategy.

"The level of violence we have witnessed is outrageous, and we are deluding ourselves and the public if we think we have been successful because we haven't," Burns said. "The mayor says he has a plan - from our viewpoint we don't think he has a plan other than to bankroll the Police Department."

Burns said the mayor uses the state's attorney's office as a scapegoat for the city's ills.

"Frankly, what we see is that the mayor never learned to play in the sandbox nicely and he needs to," Burns said. "The mayor is not a team player."

The mayor responded by saying he stands behind the gun crime statistics that his office released this week. He offered no other retort to the state's attorney's tirade.

O'Malley and Jessamy have had a prickly relationship for years. They have little direct contact and have repeatedly insulted each other publicly. The two have agreed to meet for the first time in six months this morning at 11:30 in the mayor's office.

Burns said her office has been asking for the meeting for months.

The latest political rancor comes with Jessamy's electoral bid just around the corner. Some say her tactics yesterday could harm her chances of staying in office.

"If you're going to attack somebody as she did, you're going to have to do it yourself. That was a misstep," said Matthew Crenson, a Johns Hopkins University political science professor. "It would have looked a lot better if she had. She would have appeared more courageous and forthright. If she is going to run for the office, she's going to have to show herself."

Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris responded to Burns' accusations through his public affairs office.

"The police commissioner has no comment when a public information officer holds a press conference representing an elected official," said spokeswoman Ragina Averella.

City Councilwoman Lisa Joi Stancil, who is running against Jessamy, said she thought her opponent was trying to get "sympathy votes" by painting herself as a victim in the fight against O'Malley.

"Mrs. Jessamy has had eight years in office and she has done the best she can do," Stancil said. "I'm concerned about this fight she seems to want to engage in with the mayor. He should be her partner. It's dangerous and it's a disservice to the citizens of Baltimore."

Jessamy's other opponent, longtime lawyer Anton J.S. Keating, said Jessamy can "never repair her relationship with the mayor."

In criticizing Jessamy, Keating pointed to the case of Perry Spain, the 19-year-old accused of wounding 10-year-old Tevin Montrel Davis in the neck with a stray bullet during a West Baltimore gunfight. Spain was released July 19 on $35,000 bail and returned home - which is just 12 houses away from the victim.

The mayor railed against the District Court judge who set Spain's bail and against Jessamy for failing to send a prosecutor to argue that Spain's bail should be higher.

Jessamy, in turn, argued that the Police Department did not notify her about the bail hearing, which she said is standard protocol. But it's clear that she was aware of the crime involving Tevin - the night before Spain's bail hearing, she mentioned the boy during a campaign speech at an NAACP-sponsored debate at the downtown War Memorial Building.

"Monday night, 10-year-old Tevin Montrel Davis became an innocent victim in a street gunbattle," Jessamy said at the July 18 debate. "Tevin's parents were doing what good parents do on a hot summer night in Baltimore, enjoying a cool breeze when the whizzing sounds of bullets pierced the air.

"There is more work to be done."

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